“Buddhism is a very steep religion.”
This type of trenchent observation is what makes Michael Palin’s travels a genuine joy to behold.
Having gone “Around the World in 80 Days“, travelled “Full Circle” and traipsed across the Sahara. Michael Palin and his indefatigable BBC crew elected to visit the high peaks of the Himalaya. Covering 1800 miles, from Afghanistan to the China, the Himalaya is the highest mountain range in the world encompassing the top 14 tallest mountains in the world and some 30 peaks higher than 25,000 feet.
Palin and his crew delve into the peaks of K2 and Everest, the mysteries of Lhasa, Nagaland, Nepal, Kashmir, Tibet as well as the fringes of the range in Afghanistan and the Khyber Pass, wandering pell-mell in a 3,000 mile journey that took them the better part of 6 months. Among other areas they trace the major river systems down into India (Ganges), Bangladesh (Brahmaputra) and China (Yangtze), exploring the peoples and the politics that permeate the region. Palin brings his extraordinary good humor, patience and off-beat charm to their travels, whether it is chatting with the Dalai Lama in exile, or watching a cricket match in the high peaks of Nagaland.
One of the most enjoyable elements of Palin’s travels is the sheer joy of the act of travel that is clearly evident in his work. The other key element is his focus less on history, geography and politics and more on the people that live in the region and their day-to-day lives. He makes deliberate efforts to avoid the usual meetings with authority figures, concentrating instead on the everyday encounters of life and the travails of survival in the high ranges.
In short, Himalaya is a fun, effortless read that really does make a reader want to walk a mile in Palin’s shoes, or perhaps just alongside him on one of his wayward treks.
You can watch Himayala on DVD, but I also recommend checking out Basil Pao’s amazing photography of the journey in Inside Himalaya. He does an excellent job capturing the sheer immensity and scale of the landscape in question.
Here’s a nice satellite image, courtesy of NASA’s Visible Earth site, of Everest from orbit…damn big, isn’t it?
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